Weekend of July 19-21
My weekend started a little bit early – with the kickoff of Back on my Feet (BoMF) Denver at 6:30am. I first heard about BoMF years ago, when Ericka used to volunteer with them in DC. BoMF seeks to combat homelessness by first building confidence and self-esteem through weekly group runs, then enrolling participants in financial literacy classes and job skills training. I was really excited they were coming to Denver!
The run was scheduled to start at Denver Rescue Mission’s Crossing facility, where I’ve spent time mentoring women in the STAR program, so I was hoping to see some familiar faces. Instead, I was surprised to find it was a very big crowd, and I barely found my friend Heather who’s on the BoMF Board! After a cheer circle to rally all the participants and volunteers together, we headed out on a run to a nearby park. I forgot to set my Strava, but I’d guess the run was about 1.5 miles – perfect distance for me, since I was doing a half marathon the next day and mostly wanted to rest.
After some insanely delicious bagels after the run (wow, I will definitely be checking out Woodgrain Bagels on my own sometime), I headed from there straight out to the mountains, arriving in Frisco around 9am. Perfect timing, so I could take my morning calls from there, then meet Craig for lunch! He was taking the day to rest up, then would be hiking Castle Peak / Conundrum the next day (some pretty difficult 14ers), so we were both trying to fuel up while still eating health. Then, after a few more calls, I headed west again till I got to my mountain house and settled in for the night.
My friend Karlin came out to meet me in the afternoon – she’d be running the next day too, so we thought we’d make a fun little overnight girls’ night out of it. We headed over to Vail Village to walk around and explore for a little while, then went west to Avon for dinner. I’ve driven by Sauce on the Creek dozens of times and always thought it looked cute, so we headed there. The atmosphere inside was really cute, but the window seats looked out onto a parking lot, so I think next time I’d try to choose our table a little better to improve the ambience! However, our pasta dishes were delicious, and just the right amount to fuel us up without stuffing us. I loved the modern shape of the bowl mine came in – food that looks good always tastes better, too!
Whoops, totally forgot to take a picture. It was an angled porcelain bowl, kind of like this.
And after Sauce, we headed back to my house to relax on the front porch, sip wine, and chat the night away. The perfect summer evening! And the perfect way to relax before the race.
I woke up feeling really well rested after a good night’s sleep – I always sleep really well in the mountains! The race didn’t start till 9am, and was only 20 minutes away from my house, so we had a lot of time to relax, make coffee and toast bagels, and get ourselves together.
Heading out down Route 6, I didn’t initially set my GPS, because I knew we just needed to drive on 6 for a while and then Camp Hale would be on the left. However, it was only once we got into the mountains that we realized there was no cell service whatsoever to figure out exactly where the turn was. We ended up finding the race okay, but I then realized I was going to be without my Spotify for the race, since I hadn’t thought to download anything. Whoops! Podcasts it would be, even though I usually run a bit slower to those than to music.
Although it looked like a long line of cars parked along either side of the dirt road, it ended up being only a short walk to the start area. We passed a small creek on the way, and I got really thrown off by the signs saying “no swimming – alligators in this area.” What?! I had no idea Colorado had alligators! Then a few feet later, we passed a sign that said “beach closed – due to shark sighting”… and I realized it was a joke, and I am still way too trusting and gullible. Funny 🙂
We picked up our bibs, and near the start, I saw a sign advertising the race… and with a course description. This was really helpful, as there was no elevation map provided on the race website; just a note that it was 9,200 feet above sea level with a peak height of 9,500 feet, and “minimal” elevation gains. However, when I saw this sign, I started panicking. 1,000 vertical feet of gain? That sounded like a lot! I was already worried about running at high altitude (since I have more trouble than most breathing at altitude), but now I had to worry about hills too? Oh, man… I was scared.
Karlin and I headed back to the car to drop off our stuff and get ready… as well as take advantage of the little groves of trees rather than waiting in line for the porta potty. The perks of a trail race in the middle of nowhere! Although we had gotten there early, the time passed quickly, and soon it was time to line up for the start.
Lately, I’ve found myself lining up toward the front of local races – because I’m treating them as a race, and hoping to place well. At this race, I was incredibly intimidated by both the high altitude as well as how serious so many of the trail runners looked. Trail runners always tend to look pretty casual, and everyone here was clearly joking around and having fun. But looking at their cut legs and serious gear, it was clear they knew what they were doing – and I was frankly wondering how many of them were nationally ranked competitors doing this as an easy tune up race.
I, on the other hand, had no clue what I was doing. No idea what the course looked like, no idea what pace would be reasonable to run, and no fancy hydration vest packed with stuff. I didn’t plan to eat anything on the course, and was relying on the water stops (plus a foldable cup stashed in my pocket) to cover me for hydration… and I now hoped that would be enough. Fingers crossed!
With little fanfare, the race began, and right from the first couple steps, I felt exhausted. We were running on a dirt road, but it wasn’t packed down at all, and it felt more like trying to run on sand. I knew my exhaustion wasn’t because I was making my classic mistake of going out at a ridiculous 6:00/mile pace; in fact, when I checked my Garmin, it said I was running about a 10:00/mile pace. But still, I couldn’t breathe. I slowed down more and more, and told myself that it would get better as I got used to it. After all, the first few minutes of a run are always the hardest. But five minutes later, my right eye started twitching – a sign of either dehydration or exhaustion, I wasn’t sure which. Either way, not good!
Over the next few minutes, though, the eye twitching subsided – and I found myself relaxing into the road. The dirt under our feet got harder packed, and we started heading a little bit downhill – not for long, but enough to quell my nerves, help me relax into the run, and make me realize this might be okay after all. I’d just plan to run the flat parts and walk whenever it got steep, and hopefully I could finish in time for the three hour finish that Karlin was predicting for herself, so she wouldn’t have to wait for me.
The first mile ticked off in 9:35, the second in 9:41, and the third in 9:50 – not bad, considering each one actually had a little bit of an incline (30-75 feet each). We reached the first water station and I gratefully poured a drink. But then we veered off the main road and onto a single track trail that led up into the forest. Okay – time for the real race to start.
I was glad we had the first few miles of open road to thin out the crowd before we got to the single track; having never done a single track trail race before, I couldn’t imagine trying to pass people if this were a mass start on single track. Whenever I heard someone coming up behind me, I stepped to the side and let them pass, even if they weren’t going much faster than me. I preferred this approach to worrying that I was being a jerk by not noticing someone trying to get by!
Although we were now definitely heading uphill, it felt mostly kind of rolling, with the steep uphills broken up by flatter stretches. We ended up gaining 215 feet in this mile, and I clocked it at 13:05 – a distinct slowdown, but not bad. Meanwhile, the greenery was so pretty, and I loved when I got glimpses of the trail ahead and could see runners stretched out in an attenuated line up the hill. In hindsight, this was the section where I really could have improved my time by knowing the course – the uphills were all punctuated by frequent enough dips that I ought to have just pushed through them rather than taking walk breaks.
At the end of a particularly long uphill (which turned out to be the first peak of the race), we got a break in the form of a stream crossing and then a short downhill… and then we popped out onto a dirt road again. This felt great! With a giant 171 feet of vert loss in this section of road, I picked up the pace quite a bit, and clocked mile 5 at 10:10. Almost halfway done, and I wasn’t walking twenty minute miles yet! I was really happy about that.
But as I gratefully poured a drink at the next aid station, I realized that I had a problem. While I had started the race feeling somewhat dehydrated, I now needed to use the bathroom. There were no porta potties on the course, but I peeled off into the woods by the side of the road to relieve myself. I had considered just waiting, but as I started running again, I realized it was the right call to stop – I was much more comfortable now! I had probably lost about a minute stopping, but that seemed well worth it, especially since I wasn’t running for time.
We stayed on the road for a while now – but now started heading uphill for a while (actually, for two full miles). It wasn’t super steep, but it was very steady, and I reminded myself to just take it easy and keep plugging away. Although it was a little disheartening that the road was curved so I couldn’t see how much longer it would be, I found that the uphill wasn’t too bad – steady, but not impossible. My Garmin later clocked it at a 3% grade, so enough to be noticeable, but not enough to rival an Orangetheory strength day workout 🙂
Before long, we turned into the woods again. We were still climbing, but the trail at least undulated up and down rather than just being a relentless steady climb. There were a few switchback sections that were longer and steeper than what we had already run, but for the most part, the uphills felt short and doable. As with mile 3 to 4, I again wished there had been an elevation map available ahead of time; there were a bunch of times where I walked an uphill, only to discover that there was a flat section or downhill on the other side and I really should have run the whole thing.
Just as we approached mile 8, we reached the top of a hill and found two volunteers camped out to cheer… and also to block us from continuing up the trail. Hooray! Instead, we turned right and began to descend. And within another minute, we popped out onto a dirt road – now on a definite downhill (3%, says Garmin now). Time to fly!
Out on the open road, I consciously started trying to pick up the pace. But as usual, I felt somehow silly passing people at this point in the race. After all, they had been ahead of me on the hard part, so it felt like cheating to now speed by them on the easy part. Was this bragging / showing off to zoom past when we’d already done 8 miles at basically the same pace? On the other hand, it was technically a race, even though I wasn’t anywhere near fast enough for an award. Tell me I’m not the only one who feels weird about making mid or late race moves!
After passing about a half dozen people on the wide dirt road, the course turned left onto a single track trail, but we kept going downhill – now even steeper than before. As much as I know running downhill on a wide open road is much safer, I just have so much fun running downhill on single track. Yes, there is always a tiny part of the back of my brain telling me I might fall, but I love feeling nimble and light on my feet when the trail is twisting this way and that. And I think my joy showed in my speed – I was now going much faster than those around me. Fortunately, in spite of the single track, it was totally doable for me to call out “on your left” and squeeze past one runner at a time, since we were so spread out. I wondered if the whole rest of the race would be like this – I hoped so!
My splits were super fast for the next two miles (7:53, 8:59) and with how fast those splits were plus how late in the race it was, I spent a lot of time doing mental math to figure out what kind of a finish time I could achieve. At the beginning of the race, I had been hoping to be under three hours. Now, I thought I could easily break 2:15, and possibly even 2:10 if I pushed myself. With this kind of glorious downhill, I could definitely regain some ground… but I didn’t know how long the downhill would last.
Sure enough, shortly after crossing the 10 mile mark, we popped out of the woods and into the sun – and the trail flattened out completely. We headed up a double track path for a quarter mile, then took a left and were back on the dirt road where (I think) we had started. Okay – so I knew what the road to the finish would be like. No more downhill to help, but we didn’t have that much left to run. I got this!
The road back to the finish turned out to be more difficult than the road from the start, though – primarily due to a strong headwind that came roaring along. There were also various four wheelers and other vehicles that would drive past us periodically, and when they did, they kicked up a cloud of dust behind them – right in our faces. I started raising a hand to cover my nose and mouth when I saw a vehicle coming, but the dust really wasn’t too bad. And I managed an 8:45 pace for mile 11 – I was pushing hard to get done!
However, I was getting tired – and when I saw an uphill ahead and a lot of racers walking, I was dismayed. We were approaching mile 12 (less than a mile to go!), and my watch had just ticked over the two hour mark. I was just barely on track to finish in 2:10 – but I knew I had no time to spare for a walk break. I did my best to push it up the hill, but my stamina was waning, and I didn’t have a lot of energy left. Were we there yet? I clocked that final full mile (11 to 12) in 9:22 – not quite as fast as before, but still pretty quick for an uphill at the end of the race.
I crested the hill, took a hard left, and knew I was close to the finish line – about a half mile to go. Now was the time to push it hard and sprint it in! Unfortunately, I had forgotten that the road was really soft for this stretch (remember, I said it was like running on sand), and I found myself unable to go as fast as I wanted. That was a bit disappointing! But when I saw the finish arch finally ahead, I found a tiny bit more speed in me – so at least if I didn’t finish sprinting, I finished reasonably strong. (8:23 pace for the final 0.8.) I had done it!
My difficulty in that last half mile of the race reminded me how far I’d come since the beginning – when I could barely breathe and wondered if I had made a mistake signing up for this race. I had finished far faster than I had predicted, and I had a lot of fun doing it, too! Maybe I didn’t have all the fancy gear or really much of a clue about what I was doing, but I had run a pretty decent pace (just over 10:00 miles), and I finally felt like a real trail runner rather than just a road runner who occasionally tries to run on the trails (with varying degrees of success).
There was certainly no fanfare when I crossed – it seemed like almost no one was even paying any attention to the finish line; everyone was just hanging out. So after catching my breath, I moseyed over to the food tent for water (oh my gosh, despite stopping at all the water stops, I was so thirsty at altitude!) and nourishment. But who are we kidding – while “nourishment” normally implies hearty wholesome goodness, I found myself bypassing the fruit and yogurt and instead staring down the delectable-looking assortment of donuts. Which to choose, which to choose… I finally decided on a Fruity Pebbles-topped confection, which turned out to have lemon frosting adhering the cereal to the donut. Lemon is one of my favorite flavors, and this was amazing! I have always wanted to try one of these crazy Voodoo-style donuts, and post-trail-half seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so.
During the race, I had thought that after I finished I’d go out for a quick out-and-back to make the day my longest run of the season (current record was 13 miles). The race sponsor, Dynafit, had demo shoes, so I headed over there to snag a pair to try for two to three miles. However, I did not take into account that perhaps guzzling a ton of water and eating a gigantic decadent donut would not set me up to feel good running after. (It probably also didn’t help that I was attempting to run from the start line, so I was on that loose-packed dirt that was extra challenging to run.) I ended up turning around after just a tenth of a mile… so much for running extra 🙂 On the bright side, I absolutely loved the shoes I demoed (the Dynafit Alpine Pros), and ended up ordering a pair a week later for future trail runs – they’re amazingly grippy and also much more supportive than any trail shoe I’ve tried before.
Karlin had expected to finish around three hours, and she ended up finishing a few seconds ahead of that – which was awesome! And I had more great news for her when she finished. Because a storm was rolling in, the race organizers started their raffle prize drawing even though there were still a bunch of runners on the course. They were drawing bib numbers out of a hat to identify winners, and as the raffle started, I checked the pic of Karlin and I at the race start; I figured in the off chance her number was called, I could claim her prize for her. Well, her bib number ended up being drawn for the grand prize of a free pair of Dynafit shoes!! I was totally surprised when the race organizer called her number; I raised my hand and called out that it was my friend’s number but she was still out on the course. The race organizer didn’t seem to be having it, but the crowd voiced their support (“Let her have it!”) and I pulled up the photo on my phone to prove that it was indeed Karlin’s number that had won. The organizer deferred to the crowd, and when she finished, I was so excited to tell her that she won. (Even though I secretly wanted to keep the shoes for myself… ha.)
To avoid the rain that looked ready to start at any time, we headed back to my house – and back into cell service. I think I forgot to mention that at mile 3, I put my phone into airplane mode to ensure the battery wouldn’t die. However, this had the adverse effect of messing with my Strava GPS. Despite using Strava as my distance tracker for all my training runs, I still have a habit of wearing my (ancient) Garmin (205) for races – and in this case, it was a lifesaver. Not only did it tell me where I was on the course, but I was also able to manually upload the track to Strava afterward in order to accurately see my splits. I’m now wondering if I ought to consider upgrading my Garmin to one that connects via Bluetooth to my phone / Strava, and using that as my primary distance tracker? Thoughts / ideas welcome.
Karlin and I quickly got our stuff back together at my Minturn house, and then jumped into our cars to head back to Denver. Not a moment too soon, either – turns out there was a huge accident (truck fire) on I-70 that added an extra two hours to the normally-90 minute drive home! I arrived just in time for a quick shower before heading to meet Amanda and David at my town’s first annual Arts Festival.
Unfortunately, the Arts Festival got stormed out – not just rain (which could have been mitigated with umbrellas), but a really nasty thunderstorm that made it just totally unsafe. What a bummer! Since we hadn’t gotten to spend all that much time catching up at the festival, I invited Amanda and David over to my house to hang out for a little while – and then I enjoyed a yummy home-cooked dinner and treated myself to my first ever baby foot pedicure mask before heading to bed early.
On Sunday morning, I was pleased to see that my legs really weren’t sore! Craig and I had planned to go hiking, but he had been out all day hiking Castle Peak on Saturday, and I hadn’t heard back from him yet. That made me a little nervous, but to take my mind off it, I headed to Chuze to meet my friend Heather for Body Pump followed by a coffee date. It was our favorite instructor’s last class before he’d be moving across the country, so I was glad to be there for it! And Craig called me after that he was fine – just so exhausted from his summit attempt that he slept extra hard and long.
With the rest of my day free and clear, I ended up heading to Sweet Cow with my friend Chris and her family for an impromptu celebration of National Ice Cream Day 🙂 Sweet rewards for a race well run!
Distance: 12.8 miles (they called it a half marathon but also admitted in the flyer up front that it was short)
Overall place: 45/149
Gender place: 17/79
Age group place: 9/23